The Cleveland Browns, for the first time in a long time, have real expectations to live up to. Last year, the Browns went 11-5 in the regular season and came close to beating the Chiefs in the second round of the playoffs. And this was with Kevin Stefanski not coaching due to contracting COVID-19, Odell Beckham Jr. out with an ACL tear and Myles Garrett still hampered by his own bout with COVID.
Per the DraftKings Sportsbook, Cleveland is +1600 to win this year’s Super Bowl — giving them the eighth-best odds in the NFL. DraftKings also has the Browns as -120 favorites to win more than 10.5 games, making them an easy bet to make the playoffs. Not since the team returned in 1999 have the Browns been viewed as strongly as they are right now. But can they, and will they, seize the opportunity? Here are three factors that will decide the team’s season.
Odell Beckham Jr.’s on-field production.
Last year proved that Stefanski knows what he’s doing and the team is loaded with talent. Aside from Beckham, it has the likes of Jarvis Landry, Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt, Austin Hooper and David Njoku as tools for quarterback Baker Mayfield. But Beckham is the piece that can take the Browns from the ninth-ranked offensive unit it was last year to the top-five or top-three. His deep threat ability and potential to generate big plays with his speed are skills no other Browns player has. But the wide receiver has also never totally connected with Mayfield and is coming off an ACL injury. Heading into the 2021 season, there is no bigger question mark on the Browns than Beckham.
The defensive team’s overhaul.
The plan here is simple: bet on new talent and Joe Woods’ second year as defensive coordinator to make the defense more than just Myles Garrett and Denzel Ward. Cleveland has several new faces on defense in hopes of improving last year’s 26th-ranked defense. Defensive end Jadeveon Clowney and new corner Greg Newsome II have potential. Clowney is a former No. 1 pick who was hampered by injuries last year. Newsome, meanwhile, was the Browns’ first-round pick out of Northwestern and figures to be one of several players (including free agent signees John Johnson III and Troy Hill) used to reinforce the Cleveland secondary
Baker Mayfield continued success.
Last year likely solidified Mayfield as Cleveland’s franchise quarterback, even if he doesn’t have a contract extension inked yet. In 2020, the quarterback threw for 26 touchdowns versus a career-low eight interceptions while completing 62.76% of his passes. Per Pro Football Reference, he also threw nearly three-fourths of his passes on-target. But Mayfield can get better — perhaps developing chemistry with Beckham and throwing 30-plus touchdowns. To really make a Super Bowl run and compete with the teams such as Patrick Mahomes’ Chiefs and Tom Brady’s Buccaneers, Mayfield may need to hit that level.